Suspected meteor over New Zealand described as ball of fire

Many in New Zealand saw a bright object streak across the night sky on April 2, 2012. It looks like a meteor, but that has not been confirmed.

People across New Zealand spotted a suspected meteor – or piece of debris from space – streaking across the sky several hours ago (the night of April 2, 2012 around 18:30 p.m. local time, or 6:30 UTC). Many eyewitnesses in places such as Wellington and Christchurch described the object as “a ball of fire” and were reported by some media to be “stunned” by the sight. I didn’t find any reports of noise made by the object (meteors typically do not make a noise). It left behind a long vapor trail in the sky, as bright meteors sometimes do.

Among astronomers, it’s said that seeing a bright meteor (such as this object might be) is a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience. Space debris that strikes our atmosphere vaporizes due to friction with Earth’s atmosphere. That is why we see a streak across the night sky. Most meteors burn up in the atmosphere, but some do strike the ground. I did not see any reports of this object striking the ground anywhere. Of course, New Zealand is surrounded by ocean.

The bright object spotted in the sky over New Zealand on April 2, 2012 has not been confirmed as a meteor, but it looks like one. If you saw the object, you can report it to the American Meteor Society, which collects meteor reports from around the world. You can also view others’ reports here (only one report of New Zealand meteor at this writing). And you will find a report of the object on an alert map from the RSOE (National Association of Radio Distress-Signalling and Infocommunications, based in Budapest).

EarthSky meteor guide 2012

There is no particular meteor shower going on at this time, but, across Earth’s whole globe, it’s not uncommon to see random bright meteors at any time of year. For example, a bright meteor was seen by many over the U.K. in early March 2012.

Bottom line: Many in New Zealand on April 2, 2012 saw a bright object streak across the night sky. Witnesses described it as “a ball of fire” and were reported to be “stunned.” It is not a comet. It is possibly a meteor or chunk of debris that struck Earth’s atmosphere and vaporized due to friction with the air, but that has not been confirmed.

Deborah Byrd